Consider Sponsoring Open Source

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Open Source powers the world

What would the software world be without open source projects? Imagine there was no Linux, no Java or Python, no Android, no Firefox or Chromium, no Apache2 or nginx, no Kubernetes, no VSCode, no Angular, React or Vue, no Numpy, TensorFlow or PyTorch, … The list of big open source projects, that power the vast majority of the entire internet, is almost infinitely long. Besides that, at least as important are the countless, small hobby projects driven my one or a few individuals. If you ever were looking for some script, tool, app or library, chances are high that you found exactly what you needed on GitHub.

While most of the projects mentioned above are backed by large companies like Google or Microsoft or non-profit organizations like the Open Source Initiative or the Apache Foundation, individual developers with projects with only a few hundred stars build excellent software as well. But they do it in their spare time and without getting paid anything. No matter if they build and maintain their software out of passion, in order to solve a problem for themselves or just for learning purposes – in my opinion, the efforts of individual contributors should be appreciated even more.

Accordingly, in this article, I want to encourage people to consider sponsoring for free software projects they like. It complements my previous article on Donating for a Good Cause.

Supporting the small ones

While the big corporations have the necessary funding and resources, most open source projects are developed by individuals in their spare time. However, it does require one’s efforts, time and probably includes some overhead costs too. Monetary supports surely help drive the project development. [1]

When maintaining a GitHub project, your aim is not to make money from it – although some lucky people can actually earn their living from their open source work. However, receiving small donations here and there, which express other people’s appreciation for your efforts, will definitely boost your motiviation to keep on coding. Of course, monetary donations are only one of many options to support a project, but, indeed, probably the easiest one.

Ways to give

If you really like a product, buy it.

There are many different options to support a project.

  1. Star it ⭐. This is obvious, doesn’t cost you anything and the project’s maintainer is likely going to be a bit proud for a moment.
  2. Buy the Pro version 🦄. Apps or web services often have a free basic version and a paid version with some benefits. Buying the advanced version will not only give you more features or less ads, but is usually also quite cheap.
  3. Give a one-time donation 💶. Most of the time, a small one-time donation of a few dollars is already enough to make the project’s author happy and boost her motivation. And, of course, the more people do it, the better.
  4. Set up recurring payments 🔄. If you really like a project and strongly want it to keep going – especially if it has explicit maintenance costs like hosting, etc. – consider donating a small amount on a regular basis.
  5. Get sponsorware content 🔜. Sponsorware is a release strategy for open-source software that enables developers to be compensated for their open-source work with fewer downsides than traditional open-source funding models.

Sponsoring platforms

Different sponsoring / donations platforms have established over the years, many of them with an explicit focus on software projects and some of them also being non-profit.

  • GitHub Sponsors: First and foremost, there is GitHub’s own sponsoring feature, that was introduced in early 2020. On one hand, it is a sponsoring platform for itself – mostly for recurring, monthly payments – where GitHub is in the role of managing the donations. Like with most other platforms, you do not directly sponsor a certain project, but a user. On the other hand, the new feature also allows project maintainers to link other, third-party donation platforms to their projects.
  • Liberapay: Founded in 2016, Liberapay is one of the major donation platforms in the open source world. It is partially open-source as well, has around 3000 active users and is free of fees, except for the payment provider’s (Stripe) fees. Liberapay is for recurring donations on a weekly basis.
  • Opencollective: Equally as wide-spread as Liberapay is Opencollective, which has the same purpose.
  • Ko-Fi: Ko-Fi is another platform that you will occasionally see linked to GitHub or GitLab projects. It is 100 % free and supports both one-time donations as well as subscriptions.
  • Buymeacoffee: Very similar to Ko-Fi, Buy me a coffee is another donations platform with support for one-time donations and monthly subscriptions. You see it often used not only for software, but also on blogs or by content creators.
  • Bountysource: Lastly, there is Bountysource, which is specifically for software, but works a bit different than the above platforms in a way that you place a bounty on a specific issue on a repo. This way, you can push features of a project that are especially important to you. When the issue is resolved, the reward does not necessarily go to the project owner, but to the person who implemented the respective feature or bug fix.

There are more platforms, but these are the ones that I consider most common or relevant.

The purpose of this article is to give a few good reasons why sponsoring software projects is desirable and important and provide a brief overview of different ways to sponsor software projects. I would be happy to see more people being a bit more generous when it comes to free software 😊.